Joshua Counsil

Published: April 22, 2009 at 11:25 PM

Very cool. Didn't even realize that the cart design was the same as Cat in the Hat's.

If you're still around, I'd love to know what sort of education you received to get where you are.

Jacob Sundstrom

Published: April 23, 2009 at 10:56 AM

Really great interview, thanks for answering all these questions!
Gareth H

Published: April 23, 2009 at 11:47 AM

Great Interview, and proud to say I'm in the 999,999 club.
TH Creative

Published: April 23, 2009 at 3:43 PM

Dave is one of the world’s genuine great guys. He’s an absolute pleasure to be around.

While working with him on MIBAA he would occasionally give me an opportunity to make a creative contribution. On one of those occasions, I was invited to write criminal dossiers of the alien bad guys. During the preshow, as you pass through the recreation of MIB headquarters the images of various alien scum appear on the giant “Egg-A-Tron” screen -- along with information regarding their names, aliases, planet of origin and crimes.

Dave gave me the chance to create those dossiers.

I tried to toss a couple of Easter eggs (hidden Mickeys) into the text, but Mr. Cobb was wise enough not to trust me and caught all of them … well, “most” of them (chuckle).

One of the dossiers was for the “Wanna-Buy-a-Watch” alien that appears in the re-creation of Time Square. To the right of the inside track there is a figure wearing a hat and overcoat. When riders shoot at it, the figure opens the overcoat revealing a variety of hot watches hanging from its lining. Further it is revealed that the figure is not one tall alien but two aliens – one standing on the shoulders of the other.

DC caught me when I attempted to give them the extraterrestrial names “Nomit and Abmup” (which he quickly recognized as Timon and Pumba spelled backwards). But looking over his shoulder while he was editing my work, I will never forget what he did when the read my proposed alias for the alien, which was “Tim and Dave.”

He looked at it for a second. Deleted it and wrote in “Dave and Tim.”

I’m laughing right now just thinking about it.

Ty Mullins

Published: April 23, 2009 at 3:58 PM

Thanks to Dave Cobb for answering all the questions, I really enjoyed reading it. Lot of great information and trivia he provided- I would love to see ThemeParkInsder do more things like this in the future.
Robert Niles

Published: April 23, 2009 at 4:05 PM

I'm working on setting up a Q&A now. Announcement soon.
E Ticket

Published: April 23, 2009 at 5:11 PM

Hey folks, Dave Cobb here... huge thanks to all of YOU folks for the great questions, I was more than happy to answer them, and it was great fun to revisit those memories.

I'm very grateful for sites like this and the fans who visit them. I hope you all know that at heart, I'm really just a big fan-nerd, too -- and I'm certainly not alone in the industry, either. it takes a particular kind of odd passion to understand and love this stuff, so trust me when I say that, we are totally on the same page with you guys, and are really just a bunch of geeks :) Your enthusiasm and passion about theme parks is greatly appreciated and doesn't go unnoticed.

To Joshua, regarding his question about education. It's probably the most common question I get. People seem to want a roadmap for this industry, and I'll tell ya -- if you find one, will you let me know?

The truth of the matter is, there isn't one clear path of study or education or experience to design theme parks. Like I said in the article, it contains SO many talents and SO many disciplines, it's just too difficult to summarize. Everyone I know in the industry gravitated towards it for different reasons -- theater, engineering, architecture, planning, or just plain geekery. The most successful designers I know in entertainment didn't actually use any 'recommended' road map.

Here's my story -- I obsessed about monsters and dark rides as a kid, built every car & monster model kit I could get my hands on into my teens, did a ton of theater in high school, then went to college to study film and theater -- and then dropped out after less than a year to focus on writing. No particular reason, school just wasn't a good fit for me, and moreover I wasn't happy with what I was studying. I worked in film production on and off for awhile, and my regular job at the time was working at Universal as a tour guide -- which, eventually after many years, led to an opportunity to work for Universal Creative. Then, I worked my ass off. :)

But that's just one story -- in an industry FILLED with people of every kind of talent and skill you can imagine. It seems to be way more about knowing your industry and being passionate, but I guess that is a little more abstract than most people are used to.

Find a skill you love and improve upon it, for sure -- but don't let that one skill dictate what you're about. Be a generalist. Think in the abstract. :)

Joshua Counsil

Published: April 23, 2009 at 5:24 PM

Thanks, Dave.

My whole work/education life has been dedicated to theme parks. I'm finishing up my mechanical engineering degree and would love to do what you do.

E Ticket

Published: April 23, 2009 at 5:32 PM

Joshua: mechanical engineering is a great skill for theme parks.

But here's where you can start thinking abstractly -- although seeking employment at a theme park design company is certainly worth doing when you graduate, also look at other related industries as a stepping stone.

Look at the companies who supply design and engineering *to* theme parks -- scenery companies, special effects shops, theatrical lighting -- there are tons of support industries that you can use to get experience. Also, working *in* a park, even in maintenance, is a great start -- they're not just grease monkeys, there are some *extremely* high-end engineering jobs within park maintenance and operation. Think about other entertainment industries that require engineering and design -- live theater, touring shows, museums -- all of that applies (in fact, a good chunk of my experience has been with museum-related experience design).

Also, start doing internships if you can. The big design companies (and even some of the parks themselves) all have internship programs, and it's a really, really great way to get the industry to notice you.

Joshua Counsil

Published: April 23, 2009 at 11:39 PM

I'd love to do an internship, but can't find any for Canadians. They're all for American college kids only, it seems.
E Ticket

Published: April 24, 2009 at 12:49 AM

Aha, a Canuck. My partner's Canadian, he's here on a TN1 visa. :)

You might be able to swing a temporary student work visa -- especially right out of college? Hrmmmm.

What part of Canada are you in? If you're near Toronto, check with Wonderland, of course. And you've got the PNE in Vancouver. And TONS of theater all over, that's a really good place to start, too.

Published: April 24, 2009 at 8:30 AM

Thanks for the great answers. I agree, let's see more Q&A with attraction designers (and companies!) in the future.
Joshua Counsil

Published: April 24, 2009 at 12:25 PM

Thanks for the advice!
Wok Creative

Published: April 26, 2009 at 9:14 PM

Thanks for the interview and follow up. I saw in your profile that you are from L.A., but I thought all Universal Creative work was done from Orlando. Are you freelance now, or is some of the creative stuff done in L.A., too?
I've been trying to figure out how to use my "generalist" background in television, while focusing on writing that has only been on spec, so far. What are companies looking for as samples, and do they want to see actual, produced projects as opposed to just things written on spec?

Published: April 27, 2009 at 6:52 AM

Great interview about the process of creating an absolute winner of an attraction from start to finish! It was a real enjoyable and informative read for fans and producers alike. (also, thanks for saying a few kind words about Sally!)
We get challenged by our customers all the time for "new technologies" in dark're description of the use and combination of available technologies to create a special end result is right on target as far as I am concerned.
Thanks again for sharing!
John Wood
Sally Corp.
E Ticket

Published: April 27, 2009 at 12:03 PM

Wok Creative: to clarify, I don't currently work for Universal, though I have at various times in the past. When I was working on MIB, the Universal Creative main offices were based here in Los Angeles, at the studio. As with many other Universal Creative staff, I was temporarily relocated on a *project-only* basis to Orlando for MIB, and moved back to LA after the ride was finished in 2000. The core Universal Creative team *was* moved to Orlando around 2001. However, as I understand it, there is still some design work for the parks done here in LA as well.

While I've been freelance in the past, currently I am working for Thinkwell Design and Production (, located in Los Angeles (Burbank, to be exact).

As far as writing, and getting your stuff out there -- I'll reiterate that there's no one clear "path" for this stuff, unfortunately. Most theme park design is very project-based -- so usually, people are hired for specific projects, and not as permanent staff right off the bat. Staff positions *do* exist, but are very difficult to come by simply because it's not a high-volume industry. But what happens is, when there's a boom in projects and everyone's busy, that's when new talent tends to be hired at entry-level positions on projects.

Try to cast a wide net with your writing samples. Attraction treatments are great if you have them, but even journalism articles, school papers, screenplays and technical writing can apply. Good writing is good writing, no matter what form it takes. Heck, we'll even read fiction, novels, or poetry if that's what people want to show us. Here's a link to some samples that I keep on my website:

Having actual, produced projects in your portfolio is always a benefit, for sure -- but obviously people just starting out don't have a lot of those :) Trust me, everyone has to start out somewhere, and we totally know that when we're looking at resumés and portfolios. That's where abstract thinking and "generalism" can come into play. ALL of your work experience counts, just like any other job interview. For instance, my big break came because of a combination of three things: I had worked in a park for nearly seven years, I had theater experience (onstage and backstage) in school, and I had some creative writing samples. Add some good timing -- an entry-level "coordinator" position became available while I was a tour guide -- and I got a chance.

Wok Creative

Published: April 27, 2009 at 2:54 PM

Thanks for responding again. Those samples help greatly, especially the MIB script and treatment after reading the interview about the attraction.

Thinkwell is a great company. I've met a few people there, and they have been helpful, but understandably busy.